ONLY NOISE: Wallflower

Self-deprecation is easy. When at a loss for things to write about, I can merely plumb the depths of my humiliating infatuations – never having to dive all that deep (more of a snorkel than a scuba, really). There are so many incriminating things floating atop that black and expansive pool; black, due to its enormity, but also because of its propensity for blackmail.

Yes, I have written about musical guilty pleasures before, but on a more theoretical level. There are always more blood-and-guts specifics to dig into. This mining urge surfaces today, as a bittersweet email drifts into my inbox like a wedding invitation from an ex:

“The Wallflowers – Just Announced”

My organs churn with schoolgirl anticipation. At long last, my decade-old fantasy of singing along to the entirety of “Laughing Out Loud” and the fairly sexist “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” will become a reality. It will be a belated teen pilgrimage. I shall go alone, wearing white and bearing floral garlands. To prepare for such a momentous occasion, it seems high time I revisit my rapturous and embarrassing affair with The Wallflowers, don’t you think? Me too. (For those of you allergic to the mention of Jakob Dylan’s glittering eyes, stop reading now.)

My initiation to the band’s discography, if I am being honest, was not entirely in order. Like many, I was introduced to The Wallflowers with their 1996 breakout hit, “One Headlight,” the video for which was a big part of my sexual awakening.

Whether it plagued or graced your TV set, was it possible to deny the beauty of that music video? From a cinematic perspective, it was pretty gorgeous with its deep blacks and sharp highlights…almost as gorgeous as Jakob Dylan’s cerulean eyes, you might say. Dylan’s charisma was undeniable from the start; he was in a meager league of men who could pull off wearing a beaver fedora and sporting a goatee. A man who knew all too well the power of his looks, he spent most of the video sulking around like he didn’t want to be there…and it worked.

My exploration of The Wallflowers in 1996 started and stopped with that song, but it made a lasting impression nonetheless. Somehow the lyrics, “But me and Cinderella/We put it all together” suggested ripe sexual innuendo, causing my older sister to air hump while singing along with them. I naturally followed suit. It was one of the forbidden things we did while our parents were in the other room, like curse and make our Barbies have sex.

Jakob Dylan and his Wallflowers didn’t reenter my life until I was sixteen, and had long since forgotten them. One day, while cleaning out the CD drawer at my mom’s house in 2005, a copy of Bringing Down The Horse appeared in a pile of jewel cases. That black square stared up at me, spangled with goldenrod stars. It was so instantly familiar – I couldn’t remember exactly what it was, but it emitted a fondness…a weighty and warm nostalgia. The thought that I would enjoy this record at that point in my life was pretty improbable – I’d barely welcomed pop music into my ears after five years of a strict punk diet.

And yet, the opening notes of “One Headlight” gave me chills while that Hammond B3 organ flooded my room, enrobing me in ‘90s alt-rock warmth – a description I’m not proud of. Each track seemed better than the last. “Bleeders” bowled me over particularly with its comparable minimalism. Within days I knew the entire record by heart. Within weeks, I had purchased their entire discography, which at that point was five albums deep.

1992’s self-titled, 1996’s Bringing Down The Horse, 2000’s Breach, 2002’s Red Letter Days, and 2005’s Rebel, Sweetheart. I poured through them all, perched on my bed across from my Sony boom box, reading the lyrics along to each track. This was my trusty method for memorizing songs in one sitting. I listened to them each day on the bus, loading up my Discman with a different record Monday through Friday, cycling through their five-CD catalog (in chronological order) during the five day school week.

Of course I had my favorites. The self-titled debut was a little too rough-around-the-edges for me – and not in a punk way. The lyrics were weaker, the song structure less complex, and Dylan’s voice far squeakier. I still love it, but am well aware of its cringe-worthy moments, like “Somebody Else’s Money,” which depicts two lovers stealing their way through life. A loaded topic for the son of Bob Dylan. For me, the artistic pinnacle of The Wallflowers can be found in their third LP, Breach, which was a commercial flop in comparison to Bringing Down The Horse, but was loved by critics (go figure).

The record’s lead single, “Sleepwalker” is a biting critique of Dylan’s own spot in the limelight, depicting him as self-aware of his “pretty boy” status. Where “One Headlight” played into his brooding, glittery-eyed good looks, “Sleepwalker” pokes fun at that posturing.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had a Wallflowers binge session, and I can’t think of a better time to revisit them than now, in preparation for their concert. I’ll start from the beginning. At this café. I will discreetly embarrass myself, praying that no one can hear the sounds of Jakob Dylan’s smoky vocals drifting from my headphones.

Here we go. The commencing snare rhythm from “Shy Of The Moon” off of their first record rattles my memory and I’m squeamishly delighted to hear it. I am smiling and wincing at once, so terrified that the whole coffee shop knows what I am doing. Before the first song is even over, I pull my ear buds out, making double sure that the sweetly bended notes of Dylan’s Telecaster are flooding my ears alone, and not the entire café. I twist the headphone jack, ensuring that it’s securely fitted in my laptop, but still I feel exposed. I am beaming by the time I reach “6th Avenue Heartache” on Brining Down The Horse – beaming far too much for a Tuesday. To my horror, the guy at the next table turns around abruptly and looks at me – he KNOWS!

Admittedly, I am exhilarated by this conflict of emotion; this bliss and shame I feel simultaneously. It is in this moment of lovely ambivalence that I decide it is time to buy my $75 concert ticket – no price is too high for such a sacred affair. And then, realizing their show at Ridgefield Playhouse falls on June 29, I am devastated.

While Jakob Dylan and co. will regale their audience with alt-rock hits, I will be far, far away, sulking on an air mattress in London. My high school dreams dashed forever.



Welcome to the second installment of “Only Noise,” in which Madison Bloom writes a memoir with music. 

A mixtape is something Generation Y shouldn’t grasp the importance of. Despite the small number of people who claim to prefer the sound of tape, mixtapes today are largely leveraged as devices of kitsch and nostalgia. There is of course the tape renaissance in the cottage punk industry. Once declining tape-manufacturing plants such as National Audio Company are finding newfound profits in reel-to-reel, and brands like Urban Outfitters are eager to get in on the “vintage” trend. The clothing retailer made a gesture towards analog at last year’s Northside Festival, stuffing press goody bags with a neon green compilation tape featuring artists such as Blanck Mass and Juan Wauters.

But truth be told, most people born post compact disc proliferation have never had a pressing need for a mixed tape.


There was a patch of time in the late nineties when the good people at Subaru neglected to outfit their Foresters with the leading method of musical consumption: a CD player. My mother owned such a Forester, and though in hindsight I realize the simple solution would have been to purchase a CD player, the decision was well out of my 12-year-old hands.

At the pinnacle of my musical discovery, as well as the inception of my aural snobbery, this absence was an abomination.  Living as we did in bumfuck Washington, we were out of range for all of the cool radio stations like KEXP and 89.9.  All we had was classic rock, Top 40 (not so great in 2000), and 107.7 The End, which boasted that ambiguous, doomed banner “alternative.” The End was given to playing Papa Roach, Disturbed, and the state-ordained daily quota of Nirvana.

It was ok, but when something truly abysmal came on, there was nowhere to run.  The car at that time, just on the cusp of mp3 players, kept you captive with your music more than most situations, which was the beauty and the burden of being on the road.

I began to do what any other pre-teen would have done in the decades prior: I made mixed tapes.  I didn’t need an authentic childhood void of the internet, compact disks, or Napster to understand how these things worked. I’d seen High Fidelity.

I was in a unique position as a kid in the 90s who actually knew what a vinyl record was.  I was, as all kids are, egocentric, and having admired my Dad’s 4,000 plus record collection for as long as I can remember, I would go to sleepovers and birthday parties wondering: where are your Dad’s 4,000 records?

And yes, I too fetishized the faux nostalgic from a young age.  I blame the amazing stories my parents told me about growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  They had “used up all the fun,” as my mom puts it.  I wanted to pay a nickel for a candy bar, and have a paper route, and take acid with my high school teachers.  I wanted boys to make tapes for me!  Fantastic tapes filled with songs I’d never heard, the J-cards meticulously filled in with ball-point pen renderings of hearts and music notes alongside the painstakingly written song titles, artists, and run times.  The cassettes would have themes, and clever titles winking at some hilarious inside joke.

But there were no boys. There were no tapes.  So, like an independent 12-year-old woman, I made my own goddamn tapes.

The first was simple in its purpose: songs for the road. Or, as my strained, blue Bic handwriting declares: “Songs For The Ramblin’ Traveler.”

This isn’t going to get less embarrassing.

So deprived I was of decent music in the car, that I overcompensated with flamboyant, and horrible titles. The music however, wasn’t so terrible. Side One included Bob Dylan’s “Peggy Day” off of Nashville Skyline as well as “Radio Radio” by Elvis Costello. Neither was directly related to driving lyrically, but sonically they possessed a forward-motion needed for a good car song. Just uplifting enough to keep your eyes ahead.

Side Two, was far less forgiving. I can’t say the exact year this tape was made, but it would have come to life amidst my obsession with two bands: Social Distortion and The Wallflowers.

The former was certainly the catalyst for including Mike Ness’s cover of “Six More Miles,” originally by Hank Williams, which, unbeknownst to my young ears, was not about driving, but dying.

More true-to-form road trip lyrics could be found in the Wallflowers selections, namely “Back To California” and “Shy Of The Moon.” Yes. There were two.

But the tape to end all tapes was the love dedication tape that I, in all my teen melodrama, made for myself.  Having just seen Brokeback Mountain, I was inspired.  So much so, that I entitled my mixtape-to-me: “I Wish I Knew How To Quit You.”  It is perhaps the cringiest thing I have ever done in my entire life.  But I would like to clear up one thing: it wasn’t about self-love; it was about a puppy-love deficiency…I was essentially pretending that there did exist a boy who had made me such a tape.  Like when Cher in Clueless sends herself flowers.  Sort of.

There was no shortage of Social Distortion tracks on this tape either.  Side A touted their more critically acceptable era with “Another State Of Mind” off 1982’s Mommy’s Little Monster.  The song itself was about being on the road, on tour specifically, and missing someone back home. Side B found them a decade later with “When She Begins” from Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell.

The Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl” would have also been on there, since at the time I truly thought that it was a sincere love song. The irony of my choices continued with “Mama You Been On My Mind” by Dylan and Costello’s “Allison.” It took me years to realize that both were snide reprimands of former lovers. One could posit that this tape full of “love songs” might serve as a breakup tape in later years.

Despite our necessity for them, we didn’t have many cassettes in the Subaru, and at some point I must have become bored of making my own. Maybe I simply ran out of subject matter.  Besides love songs and car songs, what else did you have to work with in life?  This was clearly before the explosion of hyper specific playlists via Spotify, which delve into such heady themes as “Hipster House Party” and “Chillimatic.”

Aside from my mixes, the car’s center console held but a Queensrÿche tape (very rarely played) and a copy of Queen’s greatest hits. The latter was bootlegged and wore a clean J-card sans songs titles and start times. As kids, Queen meant only one thing to my sister and I: “Bohemian Rhapsody.” In fact, Queen didn’t even mean that. Queen meant Wayne’s World.

Sometimes on the 20-minute ride to school, all we wanted was to bang our heads to the bridge like Garth and Wayne. We knew that part of the movie by heart, the little air-drum fill right after Freddie Mercury belted: “so you think you can stop me and spit in my eye?!” We couldn’t ask for a better start to the school day. But instead, the entire ride would be spent rewinding, fast-forwarding, ejecting, flipping, reinserting, fast-forwarding, that tape, usually to no avail. We could never find the goddamn song, but on the extremely rare occasion that we did, riotous cheers were unleashed from the backseat, and oh the headbanging.

As much as I prattle on about the relationship between music and memory, I similarly cannot pry the thought of cars from songs. Driving, riding, cruising – it’s the ultimate American experience. Still, but in motion. Speeding ahead, but inert in your seat. Always moving forward, and yet forever framed between the past and future. I’m not someone who speaks of “being present” all that much, but that really is where the present lies in its most distilled form: en route. It’s no wonder the road, the car, and the open highway, have long been recurring themes in not only American music, but film and literature for decades. And if we are so bewitched by the journey, how could we possibly resist a soundtrack?